Campaigning in the West African state of Senegal is officially underway, with rivals of incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade pledging to unite to force him to withdraw his candidacy in the February 26th elections. Although Senegal's constitutional council has declared Mr. Wade's candidacy valid, his opponents say his bid for a third term is illegal. Our reporter speaks to some Senegalese who'll be voting in a couple of weeks in Washington.
Twelve years is enough, says veteran opposition leader and presidential candiddate Moustapha Niasse.
And another candidate, former foreign minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, says Mr. Wade should not even be allowed to be on the list of legitimate candidates.
“Today the Senegalese people should be debating what the candidates have to offer, but here we are debating on the constitutional coup d’état that just took place," said Gadio.
Gadio is referring to the constitutional council's decision to validate President Wade's candidacy. The constitution allows presidents only two terms, but Mr. Wade says the measure does not apply to him, since he was elected before it took effect. Mountaga Gueye works for the Senegalese embassy here in Washington.
“When we organized in 2002 and built a new constitution," said Gueye. "It’s through that constitution that he is now finishing his first term.”
Washington businessman Khaly Thiam disagrees. He is a spokesman for candidate Moustapha Niasse.
“In March 2007, he [Wade] announced himself that he couldn’t be a candidate, that he’s blocked the constitution to only two terms," said Thiam.
Thousands of people demonstrated late last month in Dakar after Senegal's highest court ruled that Mr. Wade could run for a third term.
But Ahmadou Bamba Seydi, an economist, says people have little to gain by burning the country down.
"We do have the right to express ourselves, we have the right to say no to anything we feel is illegal, but it still has to be done in a responsible and mature way," said Seydi.
Neneh Barry is an international consultant based in Washington.
“President Wade was approved by the highest court of Senegal to run for office and we have to respect that," said Barry.
Both the United States and France have called on Mr. Wade not to run again. But Ndiouga Dieng, a pharmacist says it's the wrong message.
"Senegalese people are very open-minded and they will not let anybody push them into putting chaos in their country," said Dieng. "I hope the U.S. and the European community and the rest of Africa will help us keep the stability in Senegal."
With only a few weeks left before election day, campaigning is in full swing. A candidate must win at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second round.